Photographs to read

Initially published on DivCast (October 2, 2017).

    

08:05

Nik Levantis: Good morning from Athens. FYI I am already here.  [Interview held via Facebook Messenger]

Eirini Voutskoglou: Good morning from the cloudy North, dear sir. I am on my second cup of coffee.

N: Counting from when? Since the beginning of the year, I am on my third cup.

E: Ha ha ha. What do you drink instead of coffee? Unless you don’t ever get sleepy…

N: I don’t drink something to take the place of coffee, to wake me up that is. During the day I’ll probably drink tea, but preferably green tea!

E: Tea makes me sleepy, what’s up with that? Are we from different planets? Different species? What?

N: Generally that’s something I hear from many people, but they just conclude that it’s me who is the weird one, ha ha!

E: I read “wonderful” instead of “weird”. Hmmm…

N: We have taken autocorrection to a whole new level!

E: Ha ha ha!

N: Just so you know, since we are speaking about coffee, I was impressed by the fact that there are so many people who don’t drink it and don’t tell! I found out people like these all over! And of course there was a lot of response online [In response to a recent Facebook post about not drinking coffee].

E: You are many but far between. Personally I am shocked by the fact that people don’t drink coffee. And people like okra. It’s so unnatural.

N: It’s all in the head!

E: And so we come to the comment I wrote you when you revealed that you don’t drink coffee. “Just when you thought you know somebody, here comes this Facebook post”. Can we say with relative –always– certainty that we know somebody on social media?

N: Definitely not. I mean that we don’t know enough. The physical presence of a person will always be missing, along with the information it gives.The way they speak, their rhythm. Everything provides information and builds up a sense of them.

E: It’s an incontrovertible fact. But it’s also true that on the internet we reveal much more than we think we do.

N: Conversely, I believe we can know someone better from his internet presence than we know our friends! Depending on the degree and the things they share with us.

E: Now you reminded me to post on Facebook “I don’t mean to upset you, but we ALL write experiential posts” (because I noticed some ironic reactions lately)…

N: Ha ha, yes, in a way every post is experiential. It’s just that I am sure not everybody shares everything – therefore you can’t have the full picture.

E: What impresses me is the fact that even with the epidemic replacement of speech by pictures (whether it’s emojis or photographs), all users –whether they comment on their posts or not– are saying something to me. I feel that they are saying something to me. They want me to understand something.

N: But it’s a social medium. What else would its purpose be? Communication!

E: Mmm, it’s huge subject. True, it’s a social medium, but don’t you notice an antisocial attitude lately? Fewer reposts, fewer tags to others, even the fights are fewer.

N: Hmmm, you think? So is it used by fewer people? Anyway, since it is being used, I believe that communication is the only issue. Even by the ones who simply “spy” on people they know or strangers.

E: I am concerned by the shift from communication as a need to coexist with others, to communication as a need to be permanently introducing ourselves, something that results in a constant, irritating and often enervating overexposure which probably leads to isolation.

N: Oh yes, the difference between talking to a bunch of friends and talking by myself. Do you think that many people are talking by themselves? Maybe it’s the medium that’s driving them there? Generally I try not to put the blame on a medium. I also think (as I know you do too) that the social media is a barter system, it takes two to tango! So, in order to have relations and to achieve communication, both sides must give something. Even self-satisfied people who seek praise, they too give something.

E: It is not seldom at all that I catch myself refusing stubbornly to reply to comments, and that usually happens after a deluge of non-relevant comments that can really grind you down.

N: Yes, this is a problem. Personally I don’t have a big problem with comments, but I am annoyed by private messages. I don’t have much use for this particular feature and usually people think that privately they can talk to you openly on any subject at all times and that you are able and willing to talk.

E: Yes, unfortunately. But let’s take another track on this conversation. When did you discover the magical world of the internet?

N: My Twitter account says April 2009, having just checked. It was the first time I started systematically being involved. In a more general way, in the sense of searching for information etc, it was earlier than that, at the end of my school years, around 2004.

E: Tell me the story behind the fingerPrint publication in London.

N: First of all, it was a free press publication, I would call it experimental. The main idea is that I was taking content which was created solely for the internet (at the time, around 2006-7, blogs were at their peak in England where I was living) and reproducing it on paper, in places where the creator did never expect it to reach. For example, in the Underground. Obviously at the time you couldn’t get the internet anywhere else except in your computer. The publication was created by me, mainly for the design of it, I wanted to experiment in design as part of my studies, but along the way I started really working on it and I found sponsors to support it. This project received wide publicity, mainly because of an award I received, and so I got the chance to pursue it for a long time.

E: I am amazed by the way you can (owing to your studies, and not only them, obviously) combine internet content with conventional depiction. It goes beyond a mere projection. This is apparent even in your photographs. It is not just the picture or the particular comment that comes with it, it is your completely personal mark and accomplishment.

(Now I am sure you expect a question to get out of this uncomfortable position, being the humble man you are, but I won’t do it, because it would be a shame if my interviews were easy.)

N: You don’t know what a great compliment you are paying me now! I wish I had a personal mark!

E: But if you didn’t, what reason would I have to ask for an interview? Talk to me about photography. You have a special relationship with it.

N: Yes, I do have a special relationship with it. To me it is basically a game. I have almost always my cellphone with me, which not only takes photographs but it also has countless applications that allow me to edit them at a later time. In others words, I could play with it forever. But the most important part of the game is when I share the photographs through the internet and I deliver them to your hands! There, with your reactions, the circle of photography is, shall we say, completed. Concept/taking of photograph/editing/sharing.

 (Of course, the concept sometimes comes after the taking of the photograph.)

E: Another thing that impressed me on you is that, although you post under your real name, and you reveal where you work, you almost never refer to your job. Really, how do you do it?

N: That’s interesting, I had never thought of it! Perhaps I don’t consider it suitable? I want and I am trying with my posts to offer something interesting for the others too, and perhaps I don’t usually find something that is worth posting about.

E: I’ll let it go at that. I want your opinion on politics on the internet, on the part of the politicians and also on the part of the users, always in the light of communication.

N: First of all, I am glad because the internet has demystified politicians and cut them down to size, and made them present a more average image, just like the rest of us. I believe that the interactivity of the medium exposes them to a greater extent to reality. If you think about it, they used to be able to organize a speech for a closed audience, say a few words, hear the applause and get out. Now that’s simply not possible!

N: As to the users, I am not sure about that. It’s hard to say, because personally, although I believe that everything is political (as you say, all posts are experiential), I don’t talk politics on the internet.

E: Like you wrote previously about photography, the most important stage of any kind of exposure is how it is perceived by the users. But I understand your decision not to talk politics on the internet. I too have cut back on it, especially on Facebook. But this means that whatever potential it has, is diminished. Anyway. Let’s move on.

One of the most difficult questions I have been asked about the internet and which of course I will mercilessly pass on to you, is how you imagine social media in the future.

N: (Politics is a big issue.) I’d like to see how you will depict my reactions to your questions.

E: This thing has been bugging me since yesterday! And I decided to get some screenshots.

N: The social media will definitely become more expressive. For example, around spring this year I had the idea that at some time in the very far future emoticons will scan the exact expression of our face and reproduce it instead of the preset expressions, and here comes Apple in only a few months and announces exactly that!

E: Hmmm, so how exactly would that work? While clicking the “Like” button I will be thinking “you are silly but anyway here’s a “Like” to make you happy, so I can act cool”, and this will be detectable? OMG! (lol!)

N: Can you imagine? That would be so interesting! Anyway, for the last year or so we have moved in that direction, in the beginning with variations in typography (background colors, font sizes), then with reactions, in general the whole thing is getting more varied and I believe down the road it will be freer, and we will definitely have a greater range of reactions! To expand on your idea, your own face will appear with augmented reality in the reactions of each post!

E:There will be blood if this happens. In social media, we are play-acting ourselves. And when you play-act, you want to control how you play your role. But at some point we should end this interview, because I kept you here for almost two hours. You belong in the new generation and I want your words of encouragement to the young people who naively or stubbornly insist in NOT giving up on Greece.

N: Each case is different, you see. The only certain thing is that you don’t leave solely for work or economic reasons. If you do that, your attempt will fail because life is more than that and you had better understand it before making any big decisions. The way of life, family, friends, it’s all different abroad. I believe that we all should have the experience of living in a foreign country, because it helps us see more clearly our country, but not in the sense that you are leaving the ruins behind you. I loved Greece even more when I was studying abroad, I returned at the onset of the crisis, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I will stay here and suffer along with all the others, so that the crisis may change me and I may make some small effort to change the world around me. I am sure there will come a time that at least collectively our work will begin to pay off.

E: Isn’t it a bit strange that, although you are young, you think so calmly? Is there a trick to that? (And don’t tell me to give up coffee!)

N: I believe it’s a matter of temperament – I am monstrously calm and my own dentist has said so, no kidding!

E: Thank you very much for the interview. Thank you for the support and the help. Generous people make us all better.

N: Thank you! Those two hours passed like that and I think we could have kept talking for a lot more time! Have a nice day!

E: Exactly! Have a nice day too!

    

[Translated in English by Chris Litharis for the purposes of this website]